Quarry firm and national park discuss land-swap

David Ward :: Monday February 14, 2005
The Guardian

http://society.guardian.co.uk/environment/story/0,14124,1412417,00.html

They are not coming down from the trees or filling in the tunnels yet. Nor will they abandon the hammock-like nets they have stretched across a deep and silent quarry filled with infant trees.

But there are signs that eco-warriors might be about to win their long battle to ensure that quarrying will not destroy the peace of the Nine Ladies, a bronze age stone circle on the moor above Endcliffe and Lees Cross quarries near Matlock in the Peak District.

Some thought they might leave when planners and the Stancliffe Stone company announced a cautious deal last month to solve the problem of squaring stone extraction with the protection of a treasured landscape in the world’s second most visited national park.

But the protesters say they will not budge until they are certain. “This is our national park,” said Julie, who has lived there for four-and-half years.

“We have put so much effort in here and I’m not willing to see it sold off for the profit of a few people.”

There are about 60 dwellings on the site, many of them, including a caravan up a tree and a narrow corrugated iron hut, rather more sophisticated than those built at the Newbury bypass or Manchester airport protests.

“Even if nothing happens for two years, it would be daft for us to move out if we have already been here for five years,” said Wookie.

In 1952, in the run-up to the creation of the Peak District National Park, the government granted planning permission for quarrying at the two sites until 2042. But in 1996, park officials listed Lees Cross and Endcliffe as dormant under the 1995 Environment Act, arguing that they had not been worked for many years.

Last year, Stancliffe went to the high court to claim that the quarries were active. They lost but appealed, with the case due back in court next month.

Now the park has agreed to a suggestion by Stancliffe that both sides ask for the appeal to be adjourned while they negotiate a land swap, with Stancliffe giving up its right to work in the two contentious quarries while seeking permission to cut stone on a site at Dale View close by.

To do that, the quarry company would have to make a completely new, and possibly unprecedented, planning application to cut stone in the national park because the scheme would not be covered by the 50-year-old permissions. Securing that permis sion could prove tricky. “None of us can predict … what will be in Stancliffe’s planning application, none of us can predict how we as officers will react to it, and none of us can predict the outcome when it comes to the planning committee,” said Jim Dixon, the park’s chief executive. “But we have made it very clear to Stancliffe that if they put in an exemplary application, address very thoroughly issues such as lorry movements, and are prepared to offer Endcliffe and Stone Lees, then there is a precedent for us approving that kind of proposal. If at the end of that process, Stancliffe are unhappy with the permission or we refuse it, we go back to where we are now.

“But the general sense of what we are doing now is mediation, trying to resolve the issue without the game of dice that is the high court,” he said.

The eco-warriors suspect a deal has been done behind closed doors, although the park denies this. “If I was the national park, I’d tell Stancliffe, ‘We’ve got you by the short and curlies. If you want to discuss the land swap seriously, drop the court action now’,” said Ben Hartley, a long-term protester.

The general manager of Stancliffe, Mike Jones, said the company wanted to secure the jobs of 68 workers and ensure that stone would be available for construction work.

“We are looking for an extension at Dale View quarry which is more in keeping with the park’s principles for quarrying,” he said.

“After the adjournment hearing we would hold a pre-consultation meeting with local residents, the park and other interested groups such as the Campaign to Protect Rural England, so that we can hear the views of interested parties.”

Sorting out the land swap deal could take two years. “This is becoming a running sore,” Mr Hartley said.

“The park is leaving it all hanging. Stancliffe could reactivate their appeal at any time and could win if the political environment changes. It’s a very powerful iron they have in the fire.”

He, Rosie and Wookie are looking forward to spring. But they do not believe it will be the last season they will spend at Stanton Lees.

http://society.guardian.co.uk/environment/story/0,14124,1412417,00.html

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